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The “New” College ACB: Wake Forest Compliments

Briana DeVincenzo twirls a single dreadlock around her finger, setting her coffee down thoughtfully.

“I mean, sure, anonymous posting for good things is, well, good,” she muses. “But what about when it’s not? Or what about the people who don’t know as many people? Who don’t have any compliments posted about them at all? It might be upsetting that no one acknowledges any good qualities that they may have.”

She’s referring, of course, to Wake Forest Compliments, the latest in a series of online forums that allow for completely anonymous posting amongst college students. Founded in early November by an unnamed underclassmen and her roommate, Wake Forest Compliments is a Facebook page that receives in-box messages from students, about other students, which are then posted on the appropriate individual’s wall.

“I started the site because I was feeling depressed and really stressed about school,” said one of the page administrators. “It seemed like a really great way to bring the school closer, and give people something to smile about during finals and right before Christmas.”

The site follows the model of the original “Compliments” page, founded at Queen’s College last September by three third-year undergraduates with similar goals. “We thought Queen’s U Compliments would be a really great way to help students help other students,” said Amanda Smurthwaite, an original founder, in an interview with Techland.com.

Seems perfectly innocuous, perhaps even beneficial, right? At least, that was the intention.

In theory, the original Queen’s U Compliments was meant to counteract the rampant popularity of more malicious anonymous posting forums like JuicyCampus and CollegeACB, which provide message boards for salacious gossip without any personal accountability. But with over 56 spin-off “Compliment” sites already cropping up at both American and Canadian universities, more and more students like DeVincenzo are weighing the true, non-idealized consequences of anonymous posting sites on campus—even ones that originated with the best of intentions.

“I dislike all forms of anonymous posting on the internet,” said senior John Clark. “College ACB was terrible because it made people feel bad about themselves when they didn’t necessarily deserve it, with no accountability. But positive posting is also bad, because things like Wake Forest Compliments make certain people feel good about themselves, but not others.” Clark’s concern for those left out of the “Compliments” trend echoes DeVincenzo’s, and certainly warrants consideration. But more telling is his point about accountability, the crux of the issue with all anonymous posting forums.

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Though the latest of the “Compliments” pages obstinately oppose negative commentary about others, avenues for anonymous hate-speak are certainly still available at many universities.

Take the most famous of these forums: CollegeACB. Founded by Peter Frank, a 19-year old English major at Weselyan University, TIME reported that in 2011, the now-defunct site was generating up to 480,000 comments a day, many of which were shockingly negative posts about specifically named individuals.

Though Frank still maintains with unwavering determination that the site was meant as nothing more than “a student controlled discussion space where the communities dictate what’s talked about”, CollegeACB faced significant criticism, protestation, and even legal opposition. It was shut down in late 2011.But though ACB is, for the time being, no more, the emergence of similar sites continues to cause concern among students.

“I mean, sure, I think that anonymous posting could be fun and harmless, or a nice way to give someone a compliment and promote positivity on college campuses,” said junior Hailey Cohen. “The problem is, it can also head in an entirely different direction. People are more likely to be intentionally malicious if the things they’re saying can’t be traced back to them.” Cohen’s comment once again returns to the issue of accountability with anonymous posting sites, both of the positive and negative variety. If the shield of secrecy is resolutely in place, what’s stopping an individual from saying, well, anything at all?

“We know that anonymity makes people more likely to say things that they would not say to someone who knows their identity,” confirmed Dr. Michael Hazen, a professor in the Communication department. “In the world of the internet, this can commonly lead to phenomena such as flaming, and attacks on others.”

If such effects can be seen, and certainly there is ample evidence to prove it, then perhaps the positivity promoted by the “Wake Forest Compliments” page is the antidote to the potentially poisonous nature of unregulated anonymous posting.

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“I like Wake Forest Compliments!” agreed senior Kristen McGahan. “It’s positive, unlike some of that other super-harsh sh*t that gets posted about people on those other sites.”

As students continue to hash out the true consequences of anonymous posting forums on campus, both the positive and the negative, one thing remains true: semester after semester, these sites remain astoundingly popular amongst college-aged individuals. Obviously, anonymous posting is a phenomenon that continues to fascinate our generation. Even those with misgivings about its effect.

“Okay, so yeah, Wake Forest Compliments is nice and all and CollegeACB was absolutely terrible,” admits DeVincenzo, sipping the last of her latte. “But you know what? They’re both entertaining, and, even I will admit it, totally addicting.”

 

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Ellie Baldini

Wake Forest

Ellie Baldini is a senior at Wake Forest University majoring in Communication and minoring in Journalism. A born-and-bred Jersey girl with three younger sisters, Ellie is considers herself a girl's girl, through and through.Currently, Ellie is the Editorial Campus Correspondent of HerCampus, Wake Forest, and the PR intern at the Wake Forest University School of Law. She is also a staff writer for the Life section of the WFU student newspaper, the Old Gold & Black. She has interned previously with a local event planner, and also has work experience at a commercial real estate firm.Ellie's primary passion is writing, closely followed by reading. While she prefers contemporary fiction writers, like Alice Hoffman, she is also a big fan of Ken Follett and Jane Austen. Ellie's favorite book is The Secret History by Donna Tartt. A self-described coffee addict, cat-lover, and a secret tabloid-reader, Ellie firmly believes in finding the silver lining in every situation.After graduation (or at least someday!), Ellie dreams of moving to New York and free-lance writing.
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